The A’s are placing their confidence in a journeyman left-hander whose biggest strength is the confidence he’s shown in himself.
Rich Hill had his sights set on another crack as a major league starter, and it was a goal he chased all the way to the independent leagues to make happen.
Hill’s improbable journey culminated Friday in a one-year, $6 million contract from the A’s to join their starting rotation.
“It was really a personal journey for myself to get back to doing what I wanted to do, which is be a starting pitcher,” Hill said on a media conference call.
For the A’s, it’s a considerable amount of faith -- not to mention financial resources -- to invest in a pitcher that until September hadn’t made a big league start since 2009.
But A’s officials see a lefty with the ability to retire hitters in a manner that wouldn’t be suggested by his track record. The 35-year-old Hill is 26-23 with a 4.54 ERA in parts of 11 big league seasons, mostly spent as a reliever.
After being released by the Washington Nationals in June, one of nine organizations he’s been with, Hill signed with the Long Island Ducks of the Independent Atlantic League, looking to re-establish himself as a starter, a role he served while breaking into the bigs with the Chicago Cubs.
[STIGLICH: A's agree to one-year deal with LHP Rich Hill]
That led to a minor league contract with the Red Sox. In September, Hill got a cameo stint in Boston’s rotation and turned in a stunning performance. He went 2-1 with a 1.55 ERA in four starts, including a shutout against the Orioles. Hill also became the first American League pitcher in the last 100 years to strike out 10 in each of his first three starts with a team.
“Rich’s story is a good one,” A’s general manager David Forst said. “You have to respect the passion he showed going to independent ball and knowing what he wanted.”
Will it all come together with the A’s?
Two major league scouts asked about Hill were divided – one saying he loved the lefty, the other labeling him “a typical risk/reward guy.”
There’s consensus, however, that the A’s needed starting depth of some kind. Kendall Graveman and Jesse Hahn are coming off season-ending injuries. Jarrod Parker is still an unknown coming off a fractured elbow and two Tommy John surgeries, and Drew Pomeranz –- another starting option -– had minor shoulder surgery in October. Jesse Chavez was traded to Toronto on Friday as part of a busy day of A’s transactions. And A.J. Griffin, yet another pitcher on the mend from injury, was designated for assignment Friday to clear a 40-man roster spot for Hill.
After his release from the Nationals in June, Hill went home to Milton, Mass., and began working out with a local American Legion team. He made a couple important adjustments, setting up on the far right side of the mound and getting back to a more over-the-top delivery.
“I could feel the consistency, the ball coming out of my hand the way I wanted it to,” Hill said. “It continued in independent ball. … The confidence has always been there. The ability has always been there. To me, it was no surprise what happened in September.”
A’s outfielder Sam Fuld, teammates with Hill on the 2007 Cubs, remembers Hill putting together a terrific season that year in Chicago’s rotation. He went 11-8 with a 3.92 ERA in 32 starts that season at age 27.
“I think it’s remarkable how much he’s persevered,” Fuld said. “I know he’s been through ups and downs. … I know he was kind of billed as the future with the Cubs, and things didn’t turn out as I’m sure he hoped. For him to keep fighting and get a nice contract and another opportunity to start in the big leagues is really exciting.”